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What is Mokele Mbembe?

G. Melanson
G. Melanson

Similar in appearance to a sauropod dinosaur and approximately the size of a large hippopotamus, Mokele Mbembe is a cryptic that is said to inhabit the basin of Africa’s Congo River. Its name comes from the area’s natives, and means "one who stops the flow of rivers" in the Lingala language. The creature is reported to be an herbivore, and dwell in deep water at the river bends of the Congo.

Like other alleged lake monsters such as Ogopogo and the Loch Ness Monster, Mokele Mbembe’s physical description varies according to witnesses. Some reports claim it resembles the extinct Sauropoda, with a long neck and small head, while others say it resembles a modern-day animal such as an elephant or rhinoceros. Meanwhile, noted biologist and Cryptozoology researcher, Dr. R. P. Mackal, theorizes that Mokele Mbembe is a reptile, resembling an iguana more so than any mammal or amphibian. Natives of the Boha village, however, believe that Mokele Mbembe is a spirit rather than a physical being.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Additional descriptions of the creature include such details as a frill at the back of its head, resembling that found on a male chicken, as well as a single horn protruding from its forehead. The color of Mokele Mbembe’s skin is generally agreed to be reddish-brown.

One of the earliest documented reports of Mokele Mbembe comes from a 1776 book written by French missionary, Abbé Lievain Bonaventure, who reported seeing gigantic footprints in the Congo river area with circumferences of roughly three feet (1m) and spaced seven feet (2m) apart. Various expeditions have been launched to track down Mokele Mbembe, beginning in the 1880s after Belgium took over the Congo. However, none have yielded concrete evidence to support the creature’s existence.

Mokele Mbembe is said to spend its day climbing river banks to forage for plants and fruits. Although all reports seem to concur that it is a herbivore, Mokele Mbembe has been known to become violent with humans and particularly hippopotamuses that stand in its way.

Skeptics of Mokele Mbembe point out that there is insufficient scientific data to prove the existence of the legendary creature. However, The Likouala Swamp in the People's Republic of the Congo, which is the hotbed of many Mokele Mbembe sightings, remains 80% unexplored and covers a terrain larger than the state of Florida, at roughly 55,000 square miles. While the Congo may not have yielded evidence of a living dinosaur as of yet, expeditions to the area have uncovered other new animals, such as a new sub-species of crestless mangabey monkey discovered during a 1986 expedition.

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